Dealing with a Death in Turkey

Dealing with the death of a loved one is always distressing. It can also be stressful, time consuming and expensive. The stress, time factor, and expense are often worsened by distance, language, and differences in procedure.

The Turkish funeral director

For a Muslim, there is really no such thing as a private funeral service or director but, with the increasing number of non-Muslim foreigners living in Turkey, specialist services have sprung up to deal with their wishes and needs.

If you wish to have a non-Islamic religious funeral, you will need to use the services of such a company. If you live in an area with a lot of foreign residents, the Municipal Funeral Department will probably be able to point you in the direction of one that is suitable. Failing that, the deceased’s lawyer or (expat) neighbours should be able to help.

It is then necessary to contact the funeral directors urgently to ask them to make the necessary arrangements. From that point onwards, they will liaise with the Municipal Funeral Department and do what is needed.

However, they will need some directions and guidance from you.

The funeral director will usually need to receive the following documents and information:

  • A copy of the deceased’s passport
  • A copy of the deceased’s residence permit
  • Details of the deceased’s insurance company
  • A copy of the deceased’s social securitycard
  • The full names of both deceased’s parents (however old the deceased)
  • The deceased’s place and date of birth, marital status, and permanent address

When you have a meeting with the funeral service, you need to be prepared to give the funeral director instructions as to what needs to be done.

The questions will include the following:

  • If not already known, did the deceased wear a pacemaker? This may have already been removed by the attending doctor
  • What type of coffin do you require?
  • Do you want a burial or cremation?
  • If you want a burial, in which cemetery?
  • If you want a cremation, what do you intend to do with the ashes?
  • Do you wish the deceased to be embalmed?
  • Do you wish the deceased to be repatriated?
  • Do you wish to take in any special clothes for the deceased to wear?
  • Do you require a religious service and if so of which denomination?
  • Your choice of music
  • Whether the body is to be available for viewing prior to the burial or cremation
  • Your preferred date, time, and place for the service and burial

These are a lot of things that need to be decided quite quickly, and it is obviously helpful if the family have thought about these issues in advance and if they and/or the deceased have told them what is required.

In this section, I have talked about “you” doing various things. Self-evidently, if the deceased was living in Izmir and you are living in Chicago, it is going to be impossible for you to deal personally with all of these things within the very short time frames required. In practical terms, therefore, you will have to delegate these tasks to someone more local.

Usually, this person will be a friend of the deceased or – if there is one – a local family member. They will often have been asked by the deceased to perform the task. It is helpful if you know that this has happened!

All in all, dealing with a death in Turkey – if you want to do something other than what is normal and arranged by the Municipal Funeral Department – requires quick action and that, in turn, is helped by a bit of planning and preparation.

Cemeteries in Turkey

In Turkey, the norm is for a person to be buried rather than cremated. Municipalities each have one or more burial grounds. The use of these is very inexpensive when used as part of the municipal funeral facilities. However, they cannot be used for non-Muslim burials.

In places where there are significant numbers of foreigners, there is often a minorities graveyard. Your specialist funeral service will make arrangements with that graveyard and reserve a plot for the burial.

Such minority graves tend to be expensive: certainly far more expensive than a regular municipal grave. All in all, a funeral service for a foreigner (including the services of the funeral company and the provision of the grave) can cost from TRY2,000-10,000 (US$550-3,000; €500-2,500; £400-2,000). This is probably a lot less than you would have paid at home.

Crematoriums in Turkey

In theory, it should be possible for a cremation to be arranged instead of a burial, but very few places will have the facilities to carry this out.

Turkish death certificates (ölüm belgesi)

As already explained, the death certificate can be issued by either a hospital doctor or (if the death did not occur at a hospital) a municipal doctor.

If the public prosecutor becomes involved, then the death certificate will be issued by the court.

Unlike in many countries, the death certificate is only a certificate that the person has died. It is not sufficient to arrange a funeral.

The death certificate must be filed with the Population Registry Office (Nüfus Müdürlüğü) within ten days.

Burial licences in Turkey

In order for a body to be buried, a burial licence is required. This is issued by the municipal doctor upon production of a valid death certificate and completion of a certain amount of paperwork. This paperwork can be dealt with either by the family or friends of the deceased or by a funeral service, if one is being used. If you’re going to use a funeral service, it makes a lot more sense for them to deal with the paperwork, as the burial of foreigners is (in most parts of Turkey) a relatively rare occurrence.

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